Traveling forces you to learn the art of balancing zealous planning and reckless abandon. Usually the journey always trumps the destination. The stories you share across a dinner table and the memories you relive before you drift to sleep are from the glorious chaos of change. The journey, whether literal or metaphorical, holds joy and breeds growth. It is where we discover our strengths, face our vices, and evolve into better versions of ourselves – but sometimes the destination makes the wild journey worth it.
Overall my quest of finding my true self and traveling this world has been miraculous. I have been blessed with the desire of adventure and the passion for novelty. Even though this path has been divinely directed, I am still dumbfounded by my crazy experiences with the actual transportation of this journey. I’ve taken more overnight trains and buses than I can count, been bullied by soccer hooligans in Serbia, slept underneath restaurant tables in Bosnia, waited for trains that never showed, lined up alongside fellow travelers on the floors of airports to save on accommodation, crammed three to a twin size bed to keep the price low, endured rides that lasted twice as long as they should, and begged stewardesses to let me board planes. There is not much a traveler hasn’t experienced while on route.
Unfortunately, Thailand has not mastered transportation like it has delicious food. To reach a destination that is two hours away geographically will take you five; and in order to do so you must take a songtaew, white van, subway, bus, motortaxi, and ferry. Plus, you should allot time for changing vans several times, bus drivers stopping to pick up fruit and brooms, and for locals to send you in the wrong direction. There is no consistency in the land with many rules and no laws.
Usually we laugh off the travel mishaps because it is all part of the experience and once we sink our toes into the pristine white sand we forget about that 7 hour cramped van ride and speedboat driver who ripped us off.
That is until this past weekend where I no choice but to surrender to the unruly beast of Thai travel and the supreme force of fate.
A few friends and I signed up for the Northface Thailand Race over two months ago. We have been running three to six miles every day to train. We were so excited to run in the trails and hills of the national park. So, being the frugal travelers that we are, decided to book accommodation in a cheaper hotel near the race’s sponsored hotel that was used for registration. We typed in the address on Google Maps and had a hotel that was .2km away booked shortly thereafter. We were going to arrive late on Friday evening so we assumed that we could sort out the travel to and from the race from the sponsored hotel the following morning.
We woke at 5am ready for the day ahead. We speed-walked farther than .2km and too much time had passed - the hotel was nowhere to be found. Doubt started to cloud our minds as the sun rose above the mountains. Where was this hotel? Where was this race? Refusing to face the obvious, we showed every awake local the address with frantic faces. They all told us to walk straight. You can only walk straight for so long. We thought the city would be crowded with advertisements, signs, and runners. The only action going on that morning was a massive Monk convention at the Chumphon gate. Thousands of holy men dressed in vibrant orange congregated to give thanks to Buddha, while 4 runners with sour moods passed them in neon clothing.
A kind and slightly odd Thai man told us he would bring us to our desired location so we hopped in the back of his truck. He drove 1km and dropped us off at the bus station. It was finally clear; the race was 90km away in a different town but the same province. How did this happen? Why did Google Maps direct us to this town? Why didn’t I realize something was off? The next bus was at 8:30am. It was currently 6:30am and the race was starting at 7. We missed it. After a few dire attempts to hire a taxi to take us there, we finally greeted our fate – we weren’t running in that race.
We returned to our hotel defeated. I was angry, upset, and in disbelief. I was disappointed to miss this experience that I have been training for, but I was more so frustrated with myself. My type-A personality always forces me to re-check travel plans. I do not make these kinds of mistakes.
This is my vice and my virtue. I strive for excellence. I hold myself to such a high standard that if I do not meet my goals or succeed, then I am swallowed by a wave of failure. I expect to be the best and do the best. Then when life happens, I am disappointed – by my own doing. This need to thrive motivates me to succeed. However, the downside is that it fosters unnecessary failure and I sometimes project this need for perfection onto those around me. It is not fair to hold others to the same standard as myself. I am far from perfect so why would I expect others to be?
During this journey I have been actively facing my demons, forgiving my sins, and finding peace within the present. This race mishap was a test of what I have learned and I did not handle it well. I was just so shocked that I could let that happen. I know everyone makes mistakes, but I have a hard timing digesting my own.
After several buses, songtaews, and car rides we arrived at the race venue. It was a sort of funeral, getting closure for this missed opportunity. Sitting on the songtaew back to the hotel a man was explaining how he had to quit his 100k at 50k because they ran out of water and it was too hot. I was upset about missing a 10k? We returned to the hotel and walked straight over to the bodega to buy a beer. We toasted to the race that was never run. Soon enough, tensions fell and I slowly crawled out of my hole of self-loathing. There are much worse things in life than missing a race. Putting energy into the evil emotion of anger over something that cannot be changed is pointless. It is okay to be disappointed but I cannot let this feeling engulf me. It is okay to make mistakes. We concluded that we were not meant to run this race. Four people arranging wrong travel plans and hitting every obstacle in Thai travel was too cosmic for it to have been a simple error. We weren’t supposed to be there - one of us would have gotten hurt if we ran.
It was only 11am on Saturday morning and we had the rest of the weekend ahead of us. Our next adventure consisted of a few tours set up by Green Leaf hostel. Joining our traveling threesome this past weekend was my good friend Jason, whom I met two years ago in Croatia. He has been a rock while abroad and is a major part of my traveling family. My Croatia life collided with my new life in Thailand and it was a wonderful outcome.
We dropped our bags and boarded another songtaew to explore caves and check out some bats. Our tour guide is by far the most passionate man about bats on this planet. His love for insects, snakes, and winged creatures was surprisingly infectious. We took a pit stop on the side of the road for 15 minutes to catch a white snake he spotted in the trees. Afterwards we arrived at the grounds of a gorgeous Buddhist temple to explore its underground cave. Within this dark hollow three species of bats hung above our heads. The vibration of hundreds of bats suspended over you was extremely eerie. Our full on tour guide and his co-workers rounded up a few insects and gave us turns holding them. We were even graced with the appearance of Harry Potter’s scorpion spider.
As the sun slowly fell toward the horizon we strolled around the temple and took in the grand views of Khao Yai National Park. Our last stop for the day was to watch two million bats exit a forbidden cave at sunset. We drove a few kilometers down the road and made our way through a corn field to have a private showing of one of nature’s wonders.
Like clockwork, over two million bats flew out of the cave and toward the sunset to begin their night of feasting. They were in a perfect formation, spiraling and weaving like starlings. This procession did not stop for over thirty minutes. We stood in awe of this natural phenomenon with a glorious sunset shining behind us. Our tour guide was so giddy to show us this impressive exit and he succeeded at leaving the group mesmerized by bats.
The full-day tour began the following morning. The plan was to enter the National Park and trek the jungle for 3 hours, enjoy lunch overlooking the grassland, observe wildlife untouched by humans, visit a waterfall, and search for wild elephants. Our new tour guide had a clear fascination with Gibbons. Our morning had us chasing hornbills and these furry apes in the trees. Our guide would shout Gibbon is calling! Swing! Swing! as he grabbed his telescope and followed their path. I have never seen this type of wildlife in their natural habitat. No cages. Just 300 square kilometers of land to house gibbons, macaque monkeys, 200 wild elephants, deer, water monitor lizards, and countless species of birds, reptiles, and insects.
After the family of Gibbons swung away through the tall tree tops, we entered the narrow trails of the jungle to hike for 3 hours toward the open grassland. We stopped often to spot various birds, gibbons, and exotic flora. Eventually the green sky of trees opened up to a stunning savannah. Our quirky guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife around us. He frequently stopped to show us vipers, lizards, and colorful birds. Afterwards we drove off to a natural waterfall and relaxed by the thundering water before we had to board the songtaew once more to start our quest for wild elephants.
Luck clearly wasn’t on our side last weekend as we drove around for two hours searching for a wild elephant and all we saw were devious macaques hounding us for food. Even though it felt like we were chasing ghosts, the ride in that shabby songtaew made up for it. Perhaps overtired from repetitive early mornings and an emotionally exhausting race bust, we simultaneously fell into a slaphappy mood where everything and anything was hilarious. We went down memory lane with childhood songs and games, helping each other finish each verse. We were carefree, happy, and almost forgot about the wild elephants.
The weekend concluded over dinner, few beers, and playing cards. It warmed my heart to be accompanied by three wonderful people with honest souls. They always make me laugh and offer unconditional love. We must surround ourselves with people who lift us up and encourage us to be better. Luck has been on my side in meeting incredible souls throughout my travels.
My journey has brought me to the other side of the world from my little town in Connecticut. It has introduced me to kind strangers, rich cultures, loyal friends, and stunning views. The ride has not always been smooth and easy. Worry, doubt, pit-stops, and obstacles have crept up on me while trekking this path. Nevertheless, it has been an adventure and I would not change a thing about it.
This past weekend was a roller coaster of emotions with many highs and lows. The nuisance of Thai travel finally wore us too thin. We were trying to change an already decided outcome and were ultimately duped. So for this tale, the destination topped the journey. Khao Yai is a gorgeous gem in Northeastern Thailand and spending it with good friends made the weekend even brighter.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.